Global Giants and National Nobodies

by marksteffensen

As an adaptation of Kinkaid’s “A Small Place”, Stephanie Black effectively borrows fundamental themes and lends them to her documentary “Life and Debt”. Through the weaving of multiple stories and perspectives of the people of Jamaica and those who visit as tourists, we begin to understand the socio-economic situation of Jamaica. Some of these different weaves follow different producers of the economy including dairy farmers, onion farmers and the like. Immediately the widespread negative effects are apparent to us as viewers as these small producers are overshadowed by larger international firms which they can’t compete with.

Scenes are showed of the free trade zones and the North American restaurant chains that are scattered throughout the island and how they operate. We are shown the gross exploitation of the workers of these zones and their inability to unionize against their employers in hopes of improving wage or their working conditions. In fact, in the event of widespread strikes, the companies opted to bring in cheaper willing labour and even eventually migrated to other facilities across the globe. The McDonalds and Taco Bell chains in town, alternatively represent something much different. They resemble not as much the exploitation of Jamaica and its people, but of its rich native culture. Local restaurants that follow native traditions and cuisine are ousted by cheap and streamlined multi-national corporations (MNCs) as they offer simple and cheap alternatives. As a documentary on Jamaica, Black might have chosen to make her documentary on another topic such as the political structure or the culture of the people. Instead, her film is laden with commentary of how globalization is not only restricting local businesses and the economy, but the very culture of the people.

The final overall unifying theme of tourism is also rather critical of globalization and the perpetually growing feeling of apathy of those who participate. Throughout the film, a group of tourists are followed on their vacation in the tropical paradise of Jamaica and their experience as outsiders. Feelings towards the group are clearly distasteful and touch upon the level of ignorance of those inside of it. They are identified as people who are on the island for their own personal agenda, and can’t be bothered to pay heed to the various daunting issues that the inhabitants face from day to day. Why should they care, after all, they are only there for a short period of time and then they go back to their own lives and worries.

Despite seemingly being a biased account of the situation that Jamaica and its people face, as well as its negative view to the tourists, the documentary is effective in what it attempts to achieve. Its main goal appears to be spreading the information of what is happening in areas that we don’t think to look, when we should. It is also widely effective in demystifying the myth of the all good and supremely beneficial globalization.

Word Count: 487

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One Comment to “Global Giants and National Nobodies”

  1. Very strong second paragraph, and I love your use of “tourism and the apathy of those who participate”. Last line is a fabulous summary! Great job. Very informative and pleasing to read

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